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Published on January 9th, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann

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The Blue Dogs Reach a Milestone

Still beaming after a big anniversary/holiday show at the Charleston Music Hall on December 29, bassist/guitarist Hank Futch and his Blue Dogs bandmates are well geared-up for the new year.

The veteran roots-rock/Americana band sold out the Music Hall with old friends and fans, and they loaded the stage with two dozen longtime colleagues and collaborators. For Futch and lead singer/guitarist Bobby Houck — the heart-and-soul core of the band — the show was a unique showcase that marked the end of the group’s first 25-year run and the beginning of a new era.

“We wanted to have our friends come and sing a Blue Dogs song and then have us play one of their songs with them,” Futch says. “We saw it as a celebration of Charleston music. To have all of the musicians and friends we’ve played with over the years in one room — the thought of it kind of gets me choked up.”

Houck formed the initial version of the Blue Dogs in 1987 as an acoustic trio with classmates while attending Davidson College in North Carolina By 1988, he hooked up with Futch, and the duo began writing originals and working up old country and bluegrass numbers. In the early days, their twangy sound reflected a mix of influences that ranged from Woodstock-era rock, vintage country, Appalachian folk music, old-school soul, and country blues.

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Hank Futch and Bobby Houck of the Blue Dogs (provided)

“Bobby and I still joke that we were Americana well before Americana was a popular term,” Futch says. “We were mixing country and rock pretty well by the time Greg joined us as the permanent drummer.”

Anchored in Charleston during the 1990s, the Blue Dogs established themselves as one of the most solid live and recording bands in the Carolina scene. Their guitar-based, acoustic-leaning blend of country. rock, and classic pop stood nicely alongside the melodic works of South Carolina colleagues Hootie and the Blowfish, Edwin McCain, Danielle Howle, and Cravin’ Melon.

“[Hootie guitarist] Mark Bryan used it called it ‘Lowcountry rock,'” Futch remembers. “We’re definitely in that Americana realm.”

Over the years, the Blue Dogs recorded nine full-length albums and produced two concert DVDs. Produced by Don Gehman (R.E.M., John Mellencamp, Hootie), the band’s latest studio album, Halos & Good Buys, demonstrated their penchant for Southern style riffs, rich harmonies, and warm grooves.

“When you go back to our 1991 album Music For Dog People, there’s a lot of bluegrass and country,” Futch says. “We took it more into rock band territory in the years after that — the Crosby, Stills & Nash type of thing — and then we veered back into the country aspect.”

The Dec. 29 show at the Music Hall featured plenty of country and rock ‘n’ roll, and it boasted an impressive guest list of local and visiting acts. Futch, Houck, and longtime Blue Dogs drummer Greg Walker welcomed several old bandmates, studio partners, and music scene pals.

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The Blue Dogs, circa 2005: Greg Walker, Bobby Houck, Dave Stewart, and Hank Futch (provided)

A rumored appearance by Darius Rucker turned out to be true, and his mini-set performance blossomed into a full Hootie and the Blowfish mini set with Dean Felber, Jim Sonefeld, and Mark Bryan stepping on stage. Nashville-based songwriter (and regular Blue Dogs collaborator) Radney Foster was there. Bryan’s and Futch’s Occasional Milkshake bandmate Gary Greene showed up as well.

Other guests included Lowcountry songsmiths Dan Lotti (of Dangermuffin), Danielle Howle, Doug Jones (of Cravin’ Melon), and Wallace Mullinax (of the Dead 27’s, Elise Testone Band). Greenville-based veteran Edwin McCain also took part. Two veteran Archetypes bandmates, singer Tommy Dew and guitarist Kevin Wadley, joined the Dogs at one point, too. Mac Leaphart and John Satterfield, two South Carolinians who recently relocated to Nashville, performed as well.

Additional “Blue Dogs brethren, past and present” on stage included Jason Hawthorn, Daren Shumaker, Jamie Harper, Charlie Thompson, John Fussell, Parker Dewitt, Buck Bradberry, Phillip Lammonds, David Stewart, Evans Nicholson, and Scotty Price.

“It’s like a class reunion,” Futch says. “To have Edwin, Radney, Mark, the Hootie guys, and everyone else joining in was incredible. The show was not our swan song, by any means — just to let everybody know.”

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With Futch based in Charleston and Houck in the Charlotte area, the Blue Dogs’ musical adventures in the Carolinas and across the Southeast will continue with the same sense of camaraderie and mutual support.

The band’s next big gig is the 9th annual Music and Oysters for Wildlife benefit concert and oyster roast behind the Sewee Outpost in Awendaw on Sat. Jan. 11. Presented by the South Eastern Wildlife and Environment Education Association (SEWEE Association), the event supports their mission in biological, cultural and educational activities.

The lineup in Awendaw will feature some of the same acts from the recent Music Hall bill. The Lincoln High School Steel Drum Band will return to the main stage for a set at 2 p.m.,  the rootsy Red Dog Ramblers will hit the stage around 3:30 p.m., and the Blue Dogs and guests will be next at 5 p.m., followed by the Occasional Milkshake, Danielle Howle with Firework Show, and Doug Jones with Simple Syrup.

“We look forward to joining this awesome event once again,” Futch says. “It’s the best oysters you’ll ever have, great music, and a great cause.”

The SEWEE Association’s Music and Oysters for Wildlife is set for Sat Jan. 11 from 2-7 p.m. at the Sewee Outpost (4853 Hwy. 17) in Awendaw. Tickets are available for $35 in advance and $40 at the gate (admission includes “all you can eat” oysters). Visit seweeassociation.org for more.

The Blue Dogs will perform at the S.C. Festival and Event Association’s music showcase at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach on Wed. Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available for $5.

Check out bluedogs.com for more info.

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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.



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